System shocks boost innovation: A look at one credit union’s response to coronavirus

Every now and then, society experiences a massive shock to the system. The impact of a pandemic like the one we are seeing is big, is lasting, and will change how we go about our lives indefinitely. During these times, innovation is necessary for businesses and societies to adapt to the alterations in how we function.

For credit unions, we are being pushed to adopt or further invest in remote services, online education and new types of support for accounts and transactions. We are also finding that some of the most important inputs used for decision-making, like payment reporting on credit bureaus, are no longer reliable or able to share the whole story.

We do not yet know all the ways the coronavirus will impact us, but this is a moment when we are being forced to reflect and adjust. These moments are important and we should look for the opportunities to innovate in order to meet the new needs of our membership and to become more resilient. 

Interra Credit Union’s Response

Interra Credit Union – a $1.2B credit union based in Goshen, Indiana, with over 82,000 members – saw the opportunity created by the shifts in their local economy and wanted to find a collaborative way to push innovation. With a quick evaluation, Interra noticed a few important points they wanted to consider in their action plan:

  • The effects of the pandemic were seen across all industries, not just financial services.
  • All businesses were forced to scale back or discontinue in-person interactions. Some types of business functions were easy to shift while others were not.
  • For consumers, new challenges and opportunities emerged. Some existing challenges had a new light on them or were exacerbated.
  • Certain demographics were more affected by job or opportunity loss. This included students, who would normally be working a job or enjoying other summer activities.

To make a big impact in a short time, Interra joined forces with StartUp Moxie, an ideation incubator for high school kids in Elkhart County. With their help, the INnovate Now virtual challenge was created. The 5-week innovation challenge, kicking off on Monday, July 13th, is specifically geared toward local high school students. Challenge participants are asked to create teams of 3-5 and will work through a solution for a problem uncovered by the pandemic.

Interra’s Foundation provided funding for the project, and StartUp Moxie leveraged its network to add additional partners to improve the chance for success. Other partners include the Horizon Education Alliance (an agency for improving educational outcomes in Elkhart County), the Goshen Chamber of Commerce, and the Elkhart Chamber of Commerce.

The INnovate Now Virtual Challenge

The teams of students will work with mentors from the business community and alumni of Startup Moxie Elkhart County after the virtual kick-off event on July 13th. They’ll get a crash course on innovation and learn processes to create solutions. Next, they’ll spend two weeks identifying and validating a problem, followed by two weeks building their case, ideating and finding a solution.

The last week is dedicated to refining their pitch and submitting the requirements for the Live Virtual Pitch Event on August 19th: an executive summary, business plan with projections, and 5-minute pitch with pitch deck. At the Pitch Event, up to 10 teams will pitch their ideas to local judges via Zoom for a chance to win $1,000 in cash prizes to implement their solutions.

Interest in the project has already been incredibly positive with 10 teams and more than 40 students signed up from 8 school systems across Elkhart County.

What Interra Credit Union and its partners have done is create an innovative program that has the potential to offer a number of benefits. Students who are looking for ways to meaningfully fill their time have a new opportunity that also teaches them useful skills while they participate. After completing the challenge, it is possible that even more ideas will come from the students once they’ve had training in how to successfully innovate. The partners and local businesses will receive valuable input from young consumers. And, if the project is successful, viable solutions will emerge that could boost the local economy. This is viewed as a pilot project and if successful, will be replicated at both the high school and college levels during the school year. 

How You Can Innovate in the Face of Crises

If this has inspired you, find a way to innovate at your own credit union. As you narrow in on what needs to be rapidly altered, a formula for innovation from MIT Sloan can help. This new framework is inspired by the health and pharmaceutical industry, but is intended to work for all industries finding themselves in need of rapid innovation:

  1. Grasp the Innovation Problem: Be clear about what problem is being targeted.
  2. Map Your Resources: During uncertain times, repurposing the knowledge, tools and infrastructure you already have is effective.
  3. Use Emerging Technologies: New tech has online communities that share expertise and make linking data easier.
  4. Encourage Collaboration: Encourage and support cross-disciplinary collaboration.
  5. Integrate End Users: Meet urgent needs by launching quickly and giving the end users a voice.



If you would like more information about INnovate Now, you can contact David Birky, the Chief Strategy Officer, at Interra Credit Union at (574)534-2506.

Jennifer Laud

Jennifer Laud

Jennifer is a credit union marketing consultant and the owner of Jennifer Laud Consulting. She has a background in strategy and a passion for positioning credit unions to find their ... Web: Details